LAHORE: Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, Shehbaz Sharif, has written a letter to the chief election commissioner (CEC) requesting him to move court against all characters behind Daska by-poll fraud involving overnight disappearance of about 20 presiding officers.
In the letter to CEC Sikandar Sultan Raja, the PML-N president has called for legal action against the officers and staff involved in the scandal, besides exposing those in the federal and provincial governments responsible for giving illegal instructions.
In light of the facts, findings and recommendations of two investigation reports (of the election commission), Mr Sharif has asked the CEC to file complaints against all election officials performing duties in Daska who have been identified as having committed offences under sections 184, 186, 187 and 188 of the Election Act in the court of law. Moreover, action should be taken against those involved as per sections 167, 175, 174 and 183 of the law, he demanded.
The opposition leader also suggested that amendments be made to the act, election rules, code of conduct and procedures in consultation with political parties to avoid irregularities like the Daska by-election.
Calls for further probe to identify ‘behind-the-scene directors’ of fraud at federal, provincial levels
The letter stated that fact-finding reports have been issued on the NA-75 Daska by-election in which presiding officers, election staff, the Sialkot deputy commissioner (DC) and the district police chief were declared guilty of misconduct and illegal activities. Those involved in the fraud also violated the election process to divert the results in favour of the government. The officers responsible gave illegal orders to the election staff and committed criminal conduct. The reports proved there were continuous meetings of government functionaries with government officials at their residence.
Mr Sharif said electoral fraud and vote theft had stained the democratic system. He asked the CEC to initiate further probe to identify, fix responsibility on, and file complaints against the persons at the federal and provincial levels (other than those mentioned in the reports) who were “behind-the-scenes directors” of the whole episode and passed illegal instructions to the district functionaries to carry out “nefarious criminal acts”.
“There is also a need to formulate amendments to the Act/rules/code of conduct/SoPs in consultation with political parties to ensure that the illegalities in the infamous NA-75 (Daska) by-election do not recur.”
He said both investigation reports contained compelling, indisputable facts which constituted a damning indictment of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Punjab government over a “pre-meditated and systematic rigging of the by-election”.
“Overwhelming evidence of such rigging was available immediately after the by-election, which was one of the most controversial by-elections in Pakistan’s history — 20 missing presiding officers, aerial firing to terrorise voters, two persons killed, suspension/deliberate slowing down of voting, bad law and order situation. Both reports have confirmed the widespread view of the PML-N that the illegal events on polling day were pre-planned and executed with the connivance and active collaboration of the district authorities at the behest of the Punjab government,” he claimed.
He said the main finding of the first report was: official records obtained from various sources, including the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, Intelligence Bureau and police, and statements of presiding officers and other election officials revealed that the by-election was not held in a fair, free and transparent manner.
“Election officials and other government functionaries were found to be puppets in the hands of their unlawful masters. The report reveals that 20 ‘missing’ presiding officers had concealed facts and manipulated replies, shifting blame to police, however they were clearly guilty of negligence and maladministration and their conduct showed that they were backed by someone. The presiding officers and other officials of the education department were fully involved in jeopardising the fair, free and transparent by-election. The roles of the district returning officer and returning officer were also very poor and irresponsible,” the letter stated.
It further said one of the key findings of the second report was that the district administration was “in the loop” regarding “undesired and illegal incidents” in the by-election. “The lethargic behaviour of the district police officer (DPO) and senior police officers strengthened the apprehensions that the department was already in the knowledge of what was going on and it allowed things to happen as per planning.”
It said that the DC and the DPO of Sialkot were found guilty of misconduct. “The [assistant commissioner] Daska not only misused his official position, but tried his level best to jeopardise the election process and alter the results in favour of the government and also gave unlawful directions to the polling personnel, both of which were criminal acts on his part.
“His (AC) residence became a pivot of unlawful activities where meetings of government functionaries were held regularly, including by an adviser to the chief minister and an officer of the CM’s secretariat. [Deputy superintendents of police] and other police personnel performing election duties were also found to be involved in violations of legal provisions, code of conduct and security plan.”
The letter said that disclosures made in the reports established election rigging of an unprecedented nature, amounting to subversion of the will of the people, disrespect of the people’s vote, and a stain on the democratic system.
“The ECP must take immediate, decisive, punitive action against all those responsible, which can serve as a deterrent to such illegalities in the future, not only for election officials but also for all those involved in the electoral process, including behind-the-scenes functionaries of the provincial and federal governments.”
Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2021